Carolyn M. Walker

Old Blog of Carolyn M. Walker

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A History of Writing: How it Differs in our Brain from Speaking

writing vs speaking
Have you ever been in a situation where you were lost in translation? How about you said something only to quickly revise it with the common: "Well I didn't mean it like that..." We've all done it. What we say might not always be what we mean, just as what we write may not be what we are trying to say. Blame it all on our mind and how the two are actually completely separated within our brains.
As we know, writing evolved from speaking. Ancient civilizations did not begin writing but rather with grunts, utters, and sounds that translated and developed to form what we know as words of language. It was only after generations of further intelligent development, that we finally embark upon the phenomenon of utilizing a writing tool to create WORDS!

Interestingly enough, modern research shows evidence to support just how separate these two functions are. Let's take my daughter for example. She is 9 years old and in 3rd grade (ah the staple of early learning and the beginning of language art comprehension and vocabulary expansion). She is a fabulous reader, much like I was at that age, getting lost in the wardrobes of C.S. Lewis, and falling in love as well as down the rabbit hole of Lewis Caroll’s classic "Alice in Wonderland." Consequently, her vocabulary is that of a 6th grader and she is sharper than a needle at story comprehension. However, she can't spell to save her life. Why was this? I wondered.

Johns Hopkins University Professor of Cognitive Science, Brenda Rapp, finds it surprising. “We don’t expect that we would produce different words in speech and writing. It’s as though there were two quasi-independent language systems in the brain,” she says. Researchers today specifically want to know if the written word is at all dependent on spoken language. A study conducted in the journal Psychological Science shows that speaking and writing are indeed supported by different parts of the brain via basic motor controls as well as higher level aspects of word construction.

Rapp's interesting study "Modality and Morphology - What We Write May Not Be What We Say," offers a fascinating look at how complex our brain is in effectively separating writing and speech. She details the written language as an "evolutionarily recent human invention," but that it is perhaps dependent on much older rudimentary skills of speech, which we have had command of from the earliest points of time. Still the separation poses questions and requires more research.

The bottom line?

If you can write well and speak as superbly as me, you are a genius!
Just kidding!

 However, because both skills come to me naturally,  I assumed that they were one in the same. Going back to my daughter's situation, I see clearly that this is not the case. While I don't doubt she will improve in spelling eventually, the lack of causality between her speaking and writing skills interests me and only reconfirms how very amazing we humans are.


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